I had elevated, firm expectations when I wanted to change my diet over to a plant-based program. It was go big or go home. My motivations were sky-high and I was determined to be fully, 100% plant-based, right away. I'm not sure if you can believe this, but - surprise surprise - it didn’t work out that way.

In my heart of hearts, I wanted to be a purist about it. I wanted to be perfect. Anything less, I said, would simply be a failure to measure up properly. I placed my success at the extreme end of the gradient and started chasing it.

This hard-line approach set me up for quite a bit of frustration and disappointment. It put a very real, and unrealistic pressure on myself. This pressure reliably stripped the fun out of the process often, because it focused my optics on where I was failing, and not how and where I was actually improving.

Extremes are hard to adhere to, because often, they require a grade of personal discipline that’s very honed in. That takes time to cultivate. Extremists in any domain, food, sport or otherwise can be helpful, because they set, hold, and inform the broader cultural peak standards. But extremists don’t appear out of thin air. Just like the rest of us, they moved up the gradient, from beginner to expert. They built up their capabilities, brick by brick.

Without any flexibility, the demands of change and improvement can be daunting. I bet the effects of an “extreme” approach keeps many of us from making a genuine attempt at positive change in our lives. Diet or otherwise. Extreme standards feel impossible to adhere to - that if you’re not 100% anything on day one, you’re a poser and an impostor. So you end up thinking "why bother at all?" That’s not helpful. 

Instead, consider that making change is more like climbing mountains. You begin with what you’re capable of accomplishing. It doesn’t make any sense to attempt climbing Mt. Everest on day one, with no background or experience in hiking. We know this intuitively, but many of us dispense with this insight when we're chasing new goals. I do this often, because my pride deludes my sense of what I'm capable of.

Want to climb a mountain? Climb a little hill first. Then a bigger hill. And another. Later, once you have your bearings, pick a small mountain and make the attempt. And in this process of moving along the gradient from hill to mountain, we become mountain climbers. 

And in this manner,  I had far more success with my diet change once I kept the gradient concept in view and ditched my initial, extreme approach. It became one plant-based meal a day. Then two, then a little less cheese, a little more kale, and up the scale we go. When I focused on sliding up the scale to more plants with less meat and cheese, I gained real, emotional traction with the process. And then I really started to improve, because, I was proving to myself that it could be done. I just did it in increments, instead of wholesale change. When approached this way, I’m sure anyone else can make successful changes, too.